The night after and oh, how many night afters there have been! How many nights, must Moll ask herself, of pilfering and faking it? How many nights of having the world by the nether regions, only to have it pool like refuse around her feet?
The bed curtains are falling down. The bored boys, her generous nabobs and cits and aristos, have scented the first whiff of disease and fled. Her faithful domestic, a maid in worse condition than she, remains steadfastly by her side, but serves as a reminder that the-day-soon-comes. This is the future Moll, her nose wasted to a snub, her skin mottling with spots and decay. There is no hope now for that sparkling future as a high courtesan, only indigence and pluck to while away the time. Moll’s fingers, however, are still quick enough to work their way into a pocket to fish out the possession every whore desires: a silver or gold pocket watch.
Remember Mother Needham, the bawd, and the precious watch that swung near her waist? Moll’s got this area of her income covered, probably by the pile, sold by the kilogram. But the curious thing is Moll’s holding her piece in a speculative manner as it sways like a pendulum. Time’s a ticking and never with more poignancy than now.
So what’s Moll been up to since we last saw her?
Hacking about London with her best instrument (sorry!), she’s landed in Drury Lane. Inevitable, indeed. No longer snug in the throes of her wealthy lover, Moll is scraping to survive under cover of cloak and night. Where once silver and polish abounded, a mere single candlestick is stuck in an empty wine bottle. Earthenware has replaced china; a silver kettle turns to tin; and hauteur confronts the real likelihood of a downward tumble. Hope is not entirely lost, however, as the miniature portrait of the Virgin Mary peers from beneath the broken window, but one gets the sense of Hogarth mocking religion and its inadequacies in this modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. A rather large sense.
In a portrait at the upper left of the print we (barely) see Abraham offer his son, Issac, in sacrifice. A valiant angel interrupts Abraham, but fate is not so kind to dear Moll. Beneath the window are two other portraits, one of Dr. Sacheverell of the Perils of the False Brethren in Church and State fame, the other of Macheath, the highwayman from the Beggar’s Opera. These are suggestive choices by Hogarth of which I will only skim here but take these few lines from Act 2 of the Opera as spoken by Polly, Macheath’s betrothed and coincidentally, the daughter of a very disappointed thieftaker who hunts Macheath:
“If I allow Captain Macheath some trifling Liberties, I have this Watch and other visible Marks of his Favour to show for.”
“Virgins are like the fair Flower in its Lustre … when once pluck’d, ‘tis no longer alluring,/To Covent‐Garden ‘tis sent, (as yet sweet,)/There fades, and shrinks, and grows past all enduring,/Rots, stinks, and dies, and is trod under feet.”
Speculation also lies above the canopy bed where James Dalton’s wig box rests. In 1728, Dalton, a highwayman and all around bad guy, was sentenced to death after a particularly violent robbery. By contrast, the constables, who are just entering the room, are supposed to be the good guys—a relative term, we’re learning. Leading the way is Sir John Gonson, brothel buster extraordinaire. It might be just me but for a man who’s sought out all sorts of sordid as THE LAW, what is the scourge of Drury Lane doing with his fingertip raised to his lips? Pausing tenderheartedly over the scene of yet another fallen woman? Disagreeably or agreeably titillated by Moll flashing her wares?
Well, he’s going to arrest her anyway so who really cares, but isn’t there something like “let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” The stone, of course, being THE LAW in this case, but fair punishment wasn’t exactly up to snuff like it is today. Hogarth doesn’t put much faith in two of the largest institutions of the day. Besides repudiating representatives of justice, religion was a topic of special mockery to him. Along with the distracted clergyman from plate 1, we again see the removal of any spiritual guidance through the misused pastoral letter on the table in front of Moll and the maid. Pastoral letters written to parishioners were often allocated as waste paper. For Moll, it’s holding a slab of butter, a breakfast wrapper being its best use.
Everything else in the print, from the witches hat/twigs (S&M?) to the stretching kitty, you are going to have to extrapolate on in your own time—which you’ve already charitably given to me by now! If you haven’t had enough of Moll’s Progress yet, the prologue in The Secret History of Georgian England (aka London’s Sinful Secret) nicely dissects the plates. I will also post on plates 4-6 sooner than later since I’ve dawdled mightily between posting plates 2 and 3. For an older resource with slightly different interpretations of the plates, see pages 61-79 in the Works of William Hogarth.
Missed the previous posts?